Expedition Team: Dave Miller Date: October 2011 & December 2011
I spent a week in Yuma watching two of my son Matt’s college football games. I returned in December to watch him in the National Junior College National Championship Game. Both times I visited the territorial prison which was called “Devil’s Island” or “Hell Hole” in its heyday.
HISTORY: Located on the banks of the Colorado River (Photo#2), the prison opened in July 1876 and closed in September 1909. It was the only territorial penal institution in Arizona. A total of 3,069 prisoners including 29 women served time within the walls. Despite its infamous reputation, the only punishment was the dark cells for inmates who broke prison regulations and the ball and chain for those who tried to escape. The prison had a hospital, library and offered schooling.
The small cells (Photo#3 & #4), each housing six inmates, often reached temperatures of 115 degrees in the summer. Since Yuma is the “Sunniest Spot in America” with 360 rain free days per year, the prison cells had to be horrible for inmates in the hot weather months.
The Lowell battery gun, similar to a gatling gun, was once placed in the SE guard tower to prevent inmate escapes.
CLAIMS: in the dark cell (Photo#5), a ghost likes to pinch or touch and is attracted to children and the color red. The visitor center has two spirits, one who you can hear talking or singing and one who will move money or coins around.
Cell 14 is haunted by inmate John Ryan who died in the cell. Staff feel cold spots when entering the cell.
The Dark Cell. The cell measured 10 ft. by 10 ft. Inmates were in complete darkness and chained to a ringbolt (Photo#6) in the floor. They were fed only bread and water. Scorpions and sidewinders often shared the cell. Records indicate two prisoners went mad in the dark, hot cell and after serving their time in solitary, went directly to an insane asylum in Phoenix.
Visitor center staff told me a man from Oregon, two weeks prior, was snapping photos of the cell rows and when he reviewed the photos 30 minutes later, the apparition of a man in prison uniform was in the photo walking into a cell. The photographer showed the staff member the photo.
Another staff member told me she has heard footsteps and male voices coming from the cell block but nobody is there.
INVESTIGATION: Both investigations were in the daylight as I was not allowed to hold a night investigation after the prison closed. Being on a weekday, I had the place practically to myself. I explored the strap iron cells and the solitary chamber called “the Dark Cell”. The iron cells and iron beds were uncomfortable to lay on. Other than light traffic noise, the prison was hauntingly quiet.
I took lots of photos and conducted EVP’s in various cell block cells. I spent 10 minutes sitting in the Dark Cell with the door closed. I admit it was eerie and I could imagine scorpions crawling nearby in the dark. No wonder the inmates were affected mentally by prolonged periods in this cell. Much to my surprise when I opened the door and let light in I noticed movement in a corner – it was a small scorpion. Glad he didn’t pay me a visit when I sat there. I did not obtain any evidence after both investigations. However, the history of the prison and seeing hundreds of vintage photos was worth the visit. Outside a walked through the prison cemetery. Prisoners graves were marked with piles of rocks, no tombstones (Photo #7 & #8).
SIDE NOTE: I ran a 5K Run on Friday evening and placed in my age group. I ran another 5K on Saturday morning. Runners were given free breakfast burritos after the race. That was my first time I tasted a breakfast burrito and it was delicious.